Recently, a buyer reached out and asked about Protection Dog Freya, our Czech female German Shepherd. He asked what level of IPO/IGP she is. I told him that she is not titled in IGP; she is trained in personal protection. Given that IGP seems to be the protection standard, he had some questions. So I followed up with an email explaining the differences between IGP protection and Personal Protection Dog (PPD) protection. This is a topic I’m very passionate about. And one I’ve educated myself on extensively since starting this business.
This article discusses prey versus defense-based protection dogs.
This key concept is rarely mentioned in the protection dog industry, which is a shame, because it’s the core of what we do. It’s the very foundation of the product we’re selling!
For someone who’s not in the dog world, the protection you see in the dog sport called IGP, Internationale Gebrauchshunde Pruefungsordnung, which consists of search for helper, hold and bark, prevention of an attempted escape, defense against an attack, back transport, attack on the dog out of motion , etc) may look very similar to the protection you see in Personal Protection (defense of handler, carjacking, kidnapping, home protection, home invasion).
The biggest difference, and the part that most companies ignore, is that IGP protection is based on prey drive, whereas Personal Protection is based on defense drive. And the two could not be more different when it comes to the “why” of protection dog training.
In prey drive, a dog is in pursuit of its prey. And when a dog is in prey, the dog is in chase mode, he’s having fun, he thinks of it as a game. A dog in prey is not thinking about protecting himself or others.
When a wolf chases a rabbit, does he worry about the rabbit hurting him? Of course not!
IGP protection dogs
I want you to think of IGP protection as more of a demostration of protection. Is the dog going through all the motions of protection? Yes. But they’re just that, memorized and pre-taught routines where the dog knows exactly what to do expect, and he is trained to look good while he’s doing it.
A calm, full, hard bite; a steady, strong, confident bark; etc. The dog is performing. And he’s not worried at all about protecting himself, because in IGP no harm is done to the dog. The dog is in prey drive; he’s having fun playing a game he knows well and has practiced often.
When a dog is in prey drive, his bark is high-pitched, and his ears are high and alert.
Prey drive is brought out of a dog at a young age. Puppies as young as six weeks old can start training for IGP’s protection phase as long as they’ll chase a rag or bark at it.
Here’s an example of IGP protection from the world championship:
I’d like to note that Xanuk is a West German working line German Shepherd, which means he’s bred for IGP essentially. To learn more about different German Shepherd bloodlines, read my article: Different Types of German Shepherds.
Personal Protection Dogs
Correct Personal Protection Dog training is based on defense. The dog is defending himself, and his handler, family or property if applicable. In Personal Protection, the training is reversed. You start when the dog is ready. Could be 12 weeks of age. Six months of age. Twelve months of age. Twenty four months of age. You start when the dog shows its natural instinct to protect and reacts to a threat. The threat could be the decoy, an uninvited visitor to the home, or any other suspicious intruder.
In our protection dog training, we are gauging the dog’s maturation and implement defense-based protection when we feel the dog is ready. And we always air on the side of caution because this type of protection involves a certain level of stress on the dog’s part. Why? Because for the dog, the protection is real. It’s not a memorized routine he’s seen 100s of times. It’s a threat approaching him (and his handler), and it’s up to him to make that threat go away. For a 12 week old puppy, that’s a lot to take in. Here at Valor Protection Dogs, we usually wait until after the dog is six months old before beginning this work.
When a dog is in defense-based protection, his protection is real. He’s barking and lunging at the threat, his hackles might be up, he’s poised to make himself look big (standing tall, chest puffed up), and he’s ready to attack at a moment’s notice (weight on front feet) etc. Even after the threat (decoy) has left, he continues to be in a high state of arousal and scans/searches for the threat. He also comes back out of his crate the next go-around looking, again, for the threat – in the early stages of training, at least.
Protection dog videos
Here’s a video of Valor Protection Dog Xxanto’s first protection session (also called agitation training or civil defense training):
Note: you’ll see the decoy is wearing a bite suit. This was just by happenstance. We had finished working another dog when Xxanto was highly agitated (in defense drive) so we decided to work him right then and there. Dogs often learn from watching other dogs, and that’s exactly what Xxanto did!
Once the dog’s training is refined, it’s a thing of beauty. You turn the dog on (alert him to the threat), or he alerts to the threat based on instinct or based on the threat’s body language or behavior, and you turn the dog off. On. Off. This training is applied to handler protection, carjacking, kidnapping scenarios and more. You train the dog to recognize threats and scenarios, and you teach him what’s appropriate/how to respond.
Here’s Protection Dog Freya doing a carjacking scenario for the first time. This was her first time doing carjacking training; she was young and she was learning to ‘see’ the carjacking picture and putting two-and-two together. The next video is Protection Dog Major doing handler defense; his defense drive came out strong and early as a young pup.
Understanding how sport protection differs from personal protection
In personal protection dog (PPD) training, the dog’s bite is not as important. You just want him to bite. And you want him to keep his eyes on the decoy. But a dog with good genetics will have a nice, full bite anyway. (It feels good/natural to the dog.)
And in both types of protection (IGP and PPD), you teach the dog to bite on command, to release on command, to recall to you, etc. Obedience is paramount, but secondary, because the dog’s primary job is that protection element. That’s what he’s obsessed with. This doesn’t mean his obedience is not good – it’s great – but the dog is “in drive” and focused on the task at hand.
This is a subject I’m highly passionate about, especially after many hours of discussions with my mentor. Because the problem with prey-based protection is that the dog isn’t thinking about protecting himself or his handler. He’s playing a game and having fun. He knows the decoy is wearing a sleeve, will respond a certain way, and is very predictable. It’s safe; the dog feels no threat.
Things go south when the decoy doesn’t respond the way the expects or the dog gets hurt.
This isn’t the best video – I’m having a hard time sorting through the 1000s of IGP videos on YouTube – but it shows the dog unsure of what to do when he doesn’t get the first bite right away.
This is at the World Championships for IGP in 2017. It looks like the dog slips going into the bite, and that rocks his nerves. He isn’t sure what to do. Imagine if that decoy were a threat coming into the dog’s home. He’s not in protection mode. If he were, he wouldn’t hesitate to re-bite and subdue the threat.
Sadly, many police K9s are trained in their protection dog training using prey drive. This means they also think it’s a game, and they also look for a suit or sleeve as a precursor for a bite. There are countless videos out there of police dogs running alongside the bad guy, unsure of what to do, because they don’t see a suit or sleeve. There are also videos of police dogs who run away when bad guys hit or harm them, fleeing due to self-preservation because the ‘game’ didn’t go as planned.
Because they’re in prey drive and not defense.
In defense, a dog does not care if the bad guy has a suit or a sleeve; he bites the first thing he gets ahold of. And the harder the bad guy hits, the more he fights back. He is in fight mode; he isn’t playing around.
Here you see Protection Dog Rip ready and willing to bite the bad guy; no suit or sleeve needed. And in the second video, you see a very young Protection Dog Major protecting his perimeter against a threat. Had the decoy stepped any closer, he would have bit him.
Watch our dogs; they’re the real deal. The more the decoy pressures them, the more they fight back. We have done countless training sessions that were never recorded, with different decoys, where the pressure is real and the dog does not back down from the threat. Witnessing it will send chills down your spine.
I hope this offers some clarity on prey versus defense-based protection. The bottom line is that, in one, the dog is targeting a sleeve, and, in the other, the dog is targeting man.
The problem with other protection dog companies
Can Personal Protection dogs do IGP? Yes, the right dogs can, but they are then working in prey drive. And the more a dog is worked in prey drive, the higher their prey threshold becomes, and a dog cannot be simultaneously in both prey and defense at the same time. They are in one or the other.
A dog can start in defense, then switch to prey, as is often the case when a dog, for example, barks at the bad guy then chases him off the property. Barking = defense; chasing = prey.
But the more a dog is worked in protection exclusively in prey, as is the case with IGP dogs, the harder it is for him to turn on his defense. The protection picture would have to look drastically different; it would have to run completely parallel to the dog’s IGP training so the ‘picture’ looks drastically different.
So this begs the question, for a layman, how does one know what he’s getting for when he buys a protection dog? My answer: you look for the proof. Proof of the dog’s protection dog training. Both in video (prior to meeting the dog) and in person (upon meeting the dog). And if you’re educated on the topic, then you know what you’re looking for.
Many companies sell poorly-trained protection dogs. Dogs that wouldn’t protect themselves, much less their owners. Many of these dogs are sport-trained dogs who have been flipped and sold to the highest bidder for a profit. Some of them are titled in IGP, some aren’t. And the sad thing is that most protection dog companies are unaware and uneducated on the difference between sport protection and personal protection.
They think the two are one-in-the-same. An overall lack of knowledge on true protection dog is a sad reality in this industry.
I personally would never buy an IGP dog for Personal Protection unless I personally met and evaluated the dog’s defense drive. Because chances are, the dog is not what I’m looking for. I have tremendous respect for IGP as a dog sport. It’s exceedingly difficult to train a dog to the level of IGP3 or to compete at the world championship. But IGP protection, though similar to Personal Protection, is not the same thing. It’s a whole different ballgame.
The genetics of the dogs, where it matters most, is different.
And genetics is everything.
Many IGP dogs don’t even bark when someone comes to the door. They’re sport dogs; not protection dogs.
They perform their protection routine on the field, and they are not guard dogs off the field. (Of course, some IGP dogs have good defense drives naturally, but most do not. IGP dogs are bred for high prey drive and, consequently, low defense drive; it’s what wins.)
Our protection dogs are bred for a balance of prey and defense. Our German Shepherds are descendants of old border patrol dogs. (For more on this topic, check out my post on The History of Czech German Shepherds)
If you are looking for a real Personal Protection dog:
Steer clear of companies who are selling sport dogs.
Avoid companies who are utilizing prey primarily in protection.
Don’t buy a protection dog from companies who use the same person to raise dogs as they do to decoy for the dogs.
Don’t buy a protection dog whose early training involved rags, tugs and toys for bite work.
You do not want a puppy who thinks protection is game. You want a dog who knows what his job is and does his job well.
You want a dog who will not hesitate to protect you with his life!